Accommodating Virtual Attendees with Hybrid Meetings

How to better cater to remote event participants by leveraging interactive technology

Many meetings are already incorporating some sort of virtual element into their programming -- whether that be sharing session recordings on Facebook or live-tweeting an event using a dedicated hashtag -- but not all events are taking advantage of providing a true hybrid meeting experience. Hybrid events combine in-person attendees with digital elements that allow offsite attendees to experience many meeting elements in real time. They allow for a broader reach and extended audience engagement. 

The popularity of hybrid meetings continues to rise across many industries. Event organizers are now leveraging interactive tech to host hybrid conferences, trade shows, expos and regional summits. Following, we discuss how you can better provide a hybrid meeting experience that welcomes and accommodates the virtual attendee. 

Start Live Streaming

Live streaming is at the heart of every hybrid event. The process allows virtual participation from offsite attendees, providing them with an engaging and interactive experience similar to that enjoyed by the attendees physically present at the venue. It's this real‐time aspect that sets a virtual event apart from, say, publishing videos of panel discussions on YouTube long after the event is over.

There are many live-stream options for planners to take advantage of, from social media "live" features to dedicated streaming providers. When considering live broadcasting for your event, keep in mind various factors that will lend to the stream's success. How many sessions you are looking to broadcast simultaneously? Where are your virtual attendees getting their content from? What quality of audio and video will be acceptable? How many individuals do you expect to tune in at any given moment?

These considerations, among others, will play into the hardware and software decisions you'll need to make to provide a successful live stream. Will broadcasting via Periscope get the job done? Should you partner with an event software company like 6Connex that will handle all streaming concerns? Research some options and determine a budget to establish the platform that will best suit you, your event and your attendees' needs. 

Get Engaged with Polling

One of the main hurdles in hosting a hybrid event stems from the undeniable fact that fostering participation from a remote audience is a challenge. Even if you provide a two‐way communication method for virtual attendees to contribute to the conversation in real time, engaging off-site participants is more difficult than garnering involvement from in‐person delegates.

Instant polling systems provide a simple way to close the interaction gap by gathering participant information and feedback in real time, all while encouraging engagement. The process provides a simple means of audience involvement -- one that doesn't require virtual attendees to necessarily "speak up" to share their opinion.

With polling, you can encourage interaction, feedback and insight during speaker sessions, panel discussions and more by asking attendees to answer surveys shared across social media, your event app or via another instant-polling platform. 

Provide Virtual Labs

Cloud‐based virtual labs allow organizations to set up one or more virtual "classrooms" or "workstations" that can be accessed by their attendees on any computer with an internet connection. The virtual lab (a digitally based training environment) can provide an interactive learning experience for large numbers of widely scattered people, enabling them to read, write, perform tasks, share materials and more. 

This interactive setup makes the most sense for educational sessions or targeted focus groups or tracks within your meeting. On the contrary, they are probably not the right solution and might have relatively little impact on passive educational situations, like lectures or speaker sessions. Implement live, virtual lab training sessions only when they makes sense for your meeting's goal. 

Collaborate with Social Media

When people physically attend an event, they have the opportunity to engage in a social aspect often unavailable to virtual participants. They might mingle after speaker conferences or walk the venue floor, bumping into acquaintances and networking with like‐minded strangers. Because the virtual attendee doesn't get this benefit, it's important to make them feel welcome and included. In other words, the online aspects of a hybrid event shouldn’t feel like a tacked‐on afterthought.

Use social media to overcome this challenge. Dedicated Twitter feeds, hashtags, Facebook groups and virtual networking events can add that extra social element to the remote attendee's experience. You should also allow off‐site participants to communicate with presenters and panel guests via channels such as the event app. Provide a comment forum that allows virtual attendees to ask questions and participate in the ongoing conversation.

Coordinate Scheduling

There are some logistical complications that come into play with a hybrid event. When everyone attending an event meets in person, the issue of time zones doesn't come up. But when people are participating remotely, they might not share time zones with the event location. A mid‐day session in New York City, for example, takes place in the middle of the night in Tokyo.

Use data about your virtual audience to help with scheduling. If you're hosting an East Coast‐based event but have significant virtual attendance from the West Coast, don't schedule popular events early in the morning. Choose a time convenient for the majority of your participants.

To ensure everyone can get something out of your sessions, be sure to record and make them available online after the event. This way people with different schedules can catch up later. It can also further broaden your audience and maximize your reach.

Hybrid events are without question worth the additional planning and preparation required when they make sense for a meeting's wide-reaching attendee base. No other communication medium makes it as easy to widen your event's appeal and include perspectives and audiences you might otherwise have had to leave out.

Mercy Ehrler is the director of marketing for Attune, a provider of meeting and training spaces.